Whitehot Magazine

Dual exhibition: Ariamna Contino & Alex Hernández-Dueñas: Reverse at Nunu Fine Art

Ariamna Contino, Transition # 11, 2023, Hand-cut Strathmore cold press 300 g acid-free paper and gold leaf, 28 3/4 x 40 1/2 in., (73 x 103 cm)

Nunu Fine Art
381 Broome Street
New York, NY 10013
Days: Tuesday – Saturday
Hours: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.|
Opening reception: April 27, 2023, 6-8 p.m.
Exhibition: April 27 – June 10, 2023


Before I write articles, essays and show critiques for fine art publications, I often take a crash course in a featured artist’s background, primary media and exhibition history. I try to pay attention to important personal moments, career highlights and what’s been said to define the work. But lately, for reviews, I like to go in blind, so to speak, and just settle briefly with the exhibit without reading the object placards, catalog content and, perhaps, the show title, if I can help it. It gets me closer to the work, the process and the artists, even. Then – in the gallery or my office – I ask the inevitable, inherently subjective and, hopefully, universal “whys.” The coolly displayed, acutely poignant, almost otherworldly, and nearly abstract “landscape” wall art of Ariamna Contino and Alex Hernández-Dueñas in the upcoming Reverse exhibition is such a show that works with both my not-so-cursory direct gallery space engagement and dip-in-the-contextual-depths approach. That’s because their art is just that sophisticated, deceptively simple and works on more levels than you or I could likely identify at first glance.

Alex Hernández Dueñas, Specter #1, 2023, Pigment ink print on Hahnemühle paper and layers of 2mm cut glass, 36 5/8 x 36 5/8 in., (93 x 93 cm)

There are really three segments to the dual exhibition at the newly opened New York branch of the Taipei-based NuNu Fine Art gallery. The first features Ariamna Contino’s hand-cut, heavy-duty, archival paper Transition pieces, which look like lost, loose lace across the room but that we realize – close up – are ghostly, crashed water wave images. The sinewy fibers and holey layers of each piece grant some sort of grace and give grains of truth that subtly show nature in its finest form, but also a disheartening color-drained image of what-once-was. Smaller, centered, open, gold leaf rectangles reiterate the overall form of each sizeable, framed work – preserving the life lost of the ocean represented just below it – in precious metal. As it turns out, Contino’s pieces refer to annual climate study results and fluctuating Havana sea level readings, while the varying superimposed gold blocks indicate related bar graph data, which also, poetically, refocus our attention on the environment we deeply depend upon and are intrinsically a part of. Transition # 7 is one of my favorites in the exhibition, showing us serene, horizontal, waning wave forms; a reminder of the energy expenditure and deflation of our resources and their sheer power, which we should not expect to automatically renew at the blink of an eye or in spirited wishful thinking.

Alex Hernández-Dueñas’ Specter series of works in the show refer to the ongoing polar ice cap melts and glacial recessions worldwide. Like Contino, Hernández-Dueñas utilizes rich scientific data that helps determine formal elements of his art. The works are largely photographic, depicting abstract, fractured, yet elegant glaciers that pack their square frames. The artist chose specific colors, tones and hues that indicate ongoing temperature changes as his palette for each piece. Thin layers of carved and carefully broken glass sit atop the haunting imagery below, acting as simpler silhouettes that hover, like the series namesake, above the degraded strength and staunch of these once-powerful and very necessary “land” masses.

Ariamna Contino & Alex Hernández Dueñas, Laboratory documentatión P-1 through P-7 (Installation view), 2023, Pigment ink print and hand-cut paper on, Hahnemuhle paper, 15 3/4 x 11 3/4 in., (40 x 30 cm), Edition of 3

The third portion of this dual exhibition between the two artists – who are also married to one another – is a series of seven collaborative limited print editions called Laboratory documentatión. These smaller works feature what look like sober local news photos of shoreline destruction, flooding and other progressive assaults on both coastal Havana nature sites and highly populated residential housing. Other works in this series show us the creation of a collaborative sculptural work the couple created for the 2018 Havana Biennial, which was based on a city sea wall. Superimposed over some of the photos are color-keyed data graph curves. Other print pieces feature map imagery seated next to some of the photos, which give us the bigger, drier picture of the sheer area affected by climate change. I particularly like the piece Laboratory documentatión P-5, which shows a close up of the couple’s Biennial geometric sea wall surface, its profile view and a 3-D topographic grid map of what could indicate flood zones or land masses. It’s more abstract than the other works, providing an existential thump on the head instead of allusive instructions on what to do next.

The works offer new views on perennial concerns, which have now become worldwide and local emergencies. Some of the pieces, especially those of Hernández-Dueñas, remind me of the dreamy, layered great works of Patti Oleon and Paul Paeiment, but with the use of direct photographic imagery. The funny thing about the show title, Reverse, is that it sounds like a call to action for viewers and legislators to recognize our direct contribution to the horrors of environmental destruction and actually do something about it. But both Contino’s and Hernández-Dueñas’ wondrous, introspective and delicate works put us in a position to lament the utter destruction as if all of it has already happened. (Of course, some of it has). Is this dramatic license the kind we see in big budget disaster movies? I’d say yes, but the work is so much more than a lesson in “too little, too late.” It gives us an appreciation for the majesty and might of our seas and glaciers, but also a concrete focus on how environmental problems have been reviewed with hard irrefutable science and – in the case of the documentatión series – the very real effect on our lives that (living up to the title) ultimately does prompt action to restore or, at least, halt the destructive path we’ve laid everywhere.

To see the new Reverse exhibition, go to the Nunu Fine Art gallery on 381 Broome Street in New York at the opening reception on April 27, 2023 from 6-8 p.m.


Stephen Wozniak

Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: EnterpriseNCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: www.stephenwozniakart.com and www.stephenwozniak.com. Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.

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